The Opossum-Palooza

It's okay. We don't know what the name means either.


NHL Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

We are just one week from the opening faceoff of NHL 2006. With that in mind, we press on with our NHL preview series. Today, the twentieth part of that series, the Chicago Blackhawks. (Yes, I know this ought to be the Vancouver Canucks right now. But DefDude has gona AWOL. So we'll get back to them when we get the chance.)

The Original Six. Few terms in sports invoke more nostalgia-stoked remenisces from delerious old men in nursing homes that will be ignored by their pale faced sixteen year old grandsons who just want to gome home and play Xbox for Christ's sake. But imagine, grandson, if you could take your copy of NHL 07 and take all the best players from all thirty teams, and compress them down to six. That's right. Pretty sweet, huh? You've got Peter Forsberg centering Alex Ovechkin and Johnathan Cheechoo? Your totally gonna kick your buddy's ass. Congratulations.

Yes, the Original Six. From 1942 until 1967, the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and, yes, the Chicago Black Hawks (it was two words back then) formed a league in which East Coast bias was never an issue and nobody ever had to complain about economic imbalance. They also formed a league in which the Stanley Cup got passed around like that slutty chick you went to high school (we'll call her "Jenny" in this case, not that I ever knew anybody named Jenny) with the result being inflated championship totals for teams like the Montreal Canadiens. (Ironically, the Rangers only won one. Suck it New York!)

But with the advent of things like "expansion", "the Canadian dollar" and "Gary Bettman" the six teams suddenly found it much harder to be as lucky as they once were. Some continue to have success, like the Detroit Red Wings. Others, like Boston and New York, have become shining beacons of quality management (or something like that). And one has managed to become the biggest laughingstock in team sports. Canadian team sports, I mean.

The 21st Century has not been kind to hockey fans in the Windy City. The team missed the playoffs four years in a row from 1998-2001, lost in the first round in five games in 2002 and haven't been back to the playoffs since. They have been a team known for incompetent management, cheap management and lackluster on-ice play. In fact, even when they do things right, they do things wrong. During the summer of 2005 they were major players in the free agent market, signing away defending Stanley Cup Champion goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and top notch defenseman Adrian Aucoin, both of whom spent most of the year on the IR.

So what can you, Joe Blackhawks Fan, expect out of the 2006-07 season? In theory at least, you should be looking at a dramatic improvement after an offseason filled with major trades. (Not free agent signings, though. Nobody wanted to talk to the Blackhawks because, well, nobody is stupid enough to go there willingly.) The offense is drastically improved with the additions of Martin "Marty" Havlat and Michael Handzus. With any luck the goaltending and defense should be aided by the return of Khabibulin and Aucoin from the disabled list. But what does this all mean? It means that you and your hockey fan friend(s) will probably be incarcerated at the hospital under 24/7 suicide watch by the end of November. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

You, too, can help save a life. Check back with The Blackhawk Experience around the second month of the season and be sure to remove any sharp objects and/or shoelaces.

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There are few things in sports more enjoyable than watching your team play the spoiler, torpedoing the playoff aspirations of a team far more succesful than your own. Back in April, I had the pleasure of watching the Capitals crush the spirits of the Atlanta Thrashers, who finished just two points out of the playoffs, and probably would have had a shot if not for their loss to the Caps on April 17. And tonight at The Love Shack the Washington Nationals put an end to a serious dent in the Philadelphia Phillies run at a wild card berth.

What is it about playing the spoiler that titilates us so? The fact is, taking joy in the agony of destroying another team's season at the expense of adding a meaningless win to a lost season for your own is mean, vindictive and downright mean. But we do it anyway. In college sports, fans often root for the other teams from their conference to do well in lieu of their own team's success. I have a friend who makes it a point during the NCAA Tournament to root for whichever team eliminates her team of choice. When it comes to professional sports, though, I would rather see every team in the NFC East go 4-12 than see the Giants win a playoff game. I am at the point where I am deathly afraid of a Subway Series this October, only because I would seriously consider rooting for the Yankees, because God forbid any other NL East team enjoy any success.

Uh-oh. I've reached the end of the post and I still don't have a point. I'd better wrap it up. Okay, here goes: The point is that I am an evil, vindictive misanthrope and should probably be imprisoned in some way and cordoned off from the civilized society. In other words, I'll probably end up living out the rest of my days in Lincoln Financial Field.


NHL Preview: Minnesota Wild

Today, it's part number nineteen in our series of team previews anticipating the imminent arrival of hockey season. What better number for taking a look at the Minnesota Wild? Take it away, DefDude:

In a year where the state of Minnesota was the perfect place to be named the Wild (I’m looking at YOU, Fred Smoot), the 2005-2006 edition of the Minnesota Wild was anything but, scoring a paltry 2.78 goals per game, bad enough for 25th in the league. Minnesota’s suffocating style of defense, which ranked at the opposite end of the spectrum, 5th in the league, left little room for creativity, effectively smothering the chances of a goal being scored in a game involving Minnesota, period. Marian Gaborik scored a career high 38 goals, and played at a point per game pace for the first time in his young NHL career, but injuries limited him to 65 games for the Wild, whose dearth of skilled forwards was especially visible in Gaborik’s absence.

To that end, management made a commitment to improving the offense. They brought in Minnesota native and proven scorer Mark Parrish, who can bang around the corners and create space for Minnesota’s few skilled wingers. Minnesota also brought in puck-moving defenseman Kenny Johnsson, whose skills should certainly improve Minnesota’s wildly awful power play. But most importantly, Minnesota added Pavol Demitra, a talented forward whose experience with Marian Gaborik on the Slovakian national team will hopefully translate to the North American game, resulting in a Vikings-style orgy of scoring (And if you want to think I’m talking about the old Culppper to Moss connection, feel free).

But much like their Canadian rivals in Calgary, Minnesota’s strength remains its defense. Led by newly arrived veterans Johnsson and Keith Carney, the Wild should easily uphold the Jacques Lemaire tradition of being unfairly good on defense, which should make goaltender Manny Fernandez happy, especially now that he will be tested with a full slate of games after Minnesota dealt his netminding counterpart to Edmonton last season. If the defense can hold itself to the same standard as last season, and the offense can chip in an extra goal every other game, challenging Calgary for the division crown suddenly becomes a doable proposition. Kind of like the stewardesses on Lake Minnetonka.

To follow all the goings on up north, check out State of Hockey News or minnesota wild. There are probably some actua news sites you could check out too, but blogs are just more fun.

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My (admittedly sycophantic) Thoughts on Tony K.

This may be an unpopular opinion and I don’t care if it is. I thought Tony K. found his stride last night during the Saints game. After sitting through what seemed like days of well meaning, but ultimately mindless babble, I perked up when he started his “Symbols” soliloquy. He was right on the money on all accounts: there’s a lot of work still to be done in New Orleans, football isn’t the most important thing in the world, the Superdome and the Saints are symbolic of the rising and rebuilding of the Crescent City. None of those sentiments are new, but his delivery was so restrained and heartfelt that even I teared up a little. And I have a heart of Grinch-like proportions. He really is a great writer and I hope the overlords at the WWL put him to better use.
On to the game, where Tony rightly pointed out to the idiot Joe Theismann that runners always have their legs under their bodies. Joe, on the other hand, was laboring under the strange delusion that some people run with their bodies elsewhere. Maybe there really are X-Men and maybe they play in the NFL. I mean, what else would they do, really?
Tony seemed natural and convivial with Spike Lee and I absolutely loved that he brought up the Knicks and Isiah Thomas as Coach of the Year. That was pretty vintage Kornheiser right there.
One last thing though: Tony, that nifty trick play by the Saints for a TD? It was a reverse, not a “double-reverse.” I’m a little pedantic about that.
In short, Tony’s getting better, Theismanns’s a babbling idiot and Tirico is a bit of a pussy.

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That Is A Disgusting Act...: Part Two

Via Steve Ovadia over at Puck Update comes this most excellent headline. I shall make it my personal mission to mention Rick DiPietro by his new (to me, at least) nickname in this here blog as many times as humanly possible during the coming hockey season.



That Is A Disgusting Act...

On Sunday, one Mr. Jeremy Shockey, a player of the New York Giants football team, implied that perhaps his team had a coach who was inferior to the Super Bowl winning coach on the opposite sideline. Today, Mr. Shockey backpedaled. "I'm very team-oriented and I do let my emotions get to me," he said. "It's the competitive nature of Me." (I cannot categorically confirm that he intended for the word "me" to be capitalized. In fact, I have to assume that he lacks the knowledge of which words are and are not capitalized in the written word. But it amuses me to imagine Shockey having a conversation about the Tao of Jeremy.)

I don't have a problem with Shockey's outburst. In so much as it helps to totally disrupt a division rival, I actually support it. What I do have a problem with, however, is the reaction from both the media and members of the Giants organization:

  • Giants' center Shaun O'Hara: "I am not going to sit here and talk about what one guy says when we all know what went on. This is not about Jeremy Shockey. This is about the New York Giants losing a game. I don't care who, what or where said what. That's what it is about."
  • QB Eli Manning: "He was just emotional after the game and he knows he made a mistake."
  • Defensive End Michael Strahan: "Geez guys, don't panic. Relax."

All the focus is on the fact that Shockey's statements were inappropriate, but nobody wants to acknowledge one important fact: Shockey was probably right. The Giants proved in the fourth quarter in Philadelphia that they can put some points on the board. They proved it again Sunday in the same quarter. Their inability to score during the parts of the game when the defense is actually trying falls squarely on the shoulders of Tom Coughlin and his coaching staff. But the liberal sports media doesn't care about that. All they care about is smearing the character of a fine upstanding individual like Jeremy Shockey. The fact of the matter is that lambasting a public figure for an emotional outburst while completely ignoring the fact that he was probably justified is something that ought to be reserved for Fox News Channel and former Presidents.

Jesus, I think I just compared Jeremy Shockey to William J. Clinton. I am embarassed for Me, and everyone who ever met Me.

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NHL Preview: Edmonton Oilers

The technical issues have returned here to my little corner of the Opossum-Palooza, and as such we are now falling way behind on the NHL previews. But rest assured that I am doing everything I can to get you the useless speculation you so desperately crave. Today, I bring you DefDude's preview of the Edmonton Oilers, the eighteenth part of our series.

What a long, strange ride it has been, eh? From the almost irrelevant position of the 8th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs, to being the small-market David to Detroit’s Goliath, to the heartbreak of a nation in losing the chance to bring hockey’s holy grail home from the midst of the desolate hockey wasteland known as the South. Finally, it was all capped off by the final rejection of the city itself by a man whose inspired performance during his single season in the city endeared him eternally to fans, or would have if not for the embittering circumstances surrounding his departure. A distaste for management, or his coach, or maybe even his teammates, would be a legitimate reason for his desiring a trade. Or possibly his OWN distaste for Edmonton MIGHT be a palatable excuse (although highly unlikely), but no, Chris Pronger had to request a trade because, as reports go, his WIFE did not like the city of Edmonton. Now when a player requests a trade because his WIFE hates you so much that she nags him to the point of jumping a championship-caliber team....well, that’s got to hurt a team’s psyche. Not to mention its chances for another magical Cup run in 2007.

With the departure of Pronger and chippy center Michael Peca, the Oilers suddenly find themselves somewhat lacking in the gritty, blue-collar attitude that led to last year’s shocking Cindarella run, and leave gaping holes in the lineup, which the Oilers are hoping to fill with young players they believe ready to make the leap to the NHL’s elite. Highly-touted but often-maligned prospect Robbie Schremp will be expected to shoulder much of the load left in Peca’s wake, while the signing of former Ranger Petr Sykora adds more firepower to an already capable offense.

But the story in Edmonton remains the departure of Pronger, one of the game’s truly elite defensemen, as capable of scoring a goal as giving an opposing star a concussion. Following him out of town was puck-moving defenseman Dick (heeheehee) Tarnstrom, who bolted for Switzerland. The combined loss of quality defenders will surely offset any projected offensive gains, and leave the aging Dwayne Roloson in a precarious situation that could overburden the creaky old netminder. While much of the core from last season’s run (Ryan Smith, the team captain named Smyth, Fernando Pisani, and Shawn Horcoff), the loss of two all-star players will almost certainly be too much for a team that struggled to even make the playoffs last season, leaving the Oil more likely for a lottery spot than a place at the spring dance.

The Oilers have an enviable network of bloggers to sate your appetite, should you need to follow their exploits. Mosey on over to All Oil... all the time!, Black Dog Hates Skunks, Covered In Oil, Girls don't love hockey, Irreverent Oilers Fans, Lowetide or Oil Time Hockey. Also, don't forget The Battle of Alberta, one of the best hockey blogs around, and for the female and non-traditional male hockey fans out there, you've also got hot oil (if you're into that sort of thing).

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Mr. Happy Face

I'm not going to lie, when the Texans scored on their first drive, I got worried. Really worried. But my fears were completely unfounded, as I should have known they would be. See, here's the thing: Last night (and I swear I am not making this up), in a dream, I was visited by the ghost of Southeast Jerome. I don't remember what he said or did, or if he was even a real part of the dream or just a passing image. Regardless, it was clearly an omen, and from now on, I will learn to trust my psychic dreams.

In all seriousness though, I know the Redskins were playing the Texans, and that was a large part of their success today. But take a look at the numbers for the three offenses that have played against Houston this year. In Week One, the Eagles offense had 441 yards (311 passing, 130 on the ground) for 24 points. The next week, the Colts lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 43 points on 515 yards of offense (390 through the air, 125 on the ground). By comparison, the Redskins today had 495 yards offense, just twenty fewer than the highly regarded Colts' offense. The 261 passing yards Brunell put up weren't particularly impressive compared to Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb, but the Skins' 234 rushing yards were almost as many as the Colts and Eagles combined. All in spite of a staggering 126 penalty yards.

How much do these numbers mean? Probably not much. Unless, of course, the Redskins can cut down on the penalties. Either way, the point is that if you have Clinton Portis on your fantasy team, be sure to check back here regularly, and I'll keep you posted on my Southeast Jerome-related dreamings.

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Greetings From Petersburg

I apologize if I don't get a chance to write a full post about this. The thing is, right now, I'm writing at a compter in the library of a federal prison in Virginia. Needless to say, you don't get alot of time, or privacy.

It's a long story, how I ended up here. Apparently, the government has been after BoSox Siobhan for quite some time (something about moral depravity, I don't know). Well, they called me to court and demanded that I reveal her identity, and when I refused I... well, here I am. Fact is, I just wasn't willing to compromise my journalistic (bloggeristic?) integrity. Siobhan has a right to her anonymous identity, dammit, and that anonymity is at the core of everything I do here.

Besides, you know what? Prison doesn't seem so bad. Oops, sorry... gotta go. My cellmate, Bruno, needs me. He said something about my "bung", but I don't know what he's talking about. I don't even follow Chelsea. I'm more of a Tottenham Hotspur guy myself.



NHL Preview: Colorado Avalanche

Part seventeen of our thirty part series previewing every NHL team. Today's target is the Colorado Avalanche. DefDude is on the job.

One of hockey’s few truly exciting teams for most of the late 90’s and early 21st century, the Quebec Nordiques Colorado Avalanche seem to be, ironically enough, crashing down from their decade-long perch atop the Northwest division. After having their league-record tying 10-year dominance snapped by the Vancouver Canucks just before the lockout, the Avs seemed poised for a return to their former glory in the landscape of the new CBA, letting walk longtime Av Peter Forsberg via free agency to insure cap flexibility, but such was not to be. Colorado struggled to make the playoffs, only to find themselves unimpressively trounced by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the second round, victims of a questionable defense and even more questionable goaltending.

To that end, the Avalanche dealt this summer from a position of strength (or so they thought), giving up the versatile, crafty forward Alex Tanguay, who probably wouldn’t have fit into the team’s salary structure anyways, to the Calagary Flames in exchange for “puck-moving” (read: incapable of playing real defense, but with enough offensive upside to offset the fact) defenseman Jordan Leopold. What they failed to realize, however, is that in trading for Canadiens netminder Jose Theodore near the trading deadline, they sacrificed cap space and a better goaltender in exchange for a player they would have been foolish to offer a pack of Marek Svatos’ sticks for, meanwhile strengthening a divisional opponent’s only discernible weakness.

Speaking of Marek Svatos, it really sucks to be him, eh? When the Avs first went up to the podium in whichever year they drafted him (Biff's Note: 2001, you lazy bum), he had to have been excited beyond belief: Peter Forsberg? Joe Sakic? Patrick Roy? Rob Blake? He was going to be surrounded by some of the greatest names in the history of the game……until they began leaving. Roy retired, Forsberg left via free agency, to be followed by Rob Blake this offseason, leaving Svatos with only a shell of Joe Sakic’s former self with whom to play. Even worse, Steve Konawalchuk, who, after missing most of last season with a wrist injury, was penciled in for scond-line duty to take the pressure of Svatos, was recently diagnosed with a heart condition, and is unsure if he will be able to return this season. If he doesn’t it sure will suck to be an Avalanche fan this season……actually, now that I think about it, even if he does, it won’t be enjoyable to watch your once-proud franchise struggle to make the playoffs, weighed down by a substandard goaltender, only to wimper out of the playoffs in another early exit.

Follow the Avs all year long via some good old blogging, at Colorado Avalanche Blog, Avalanche! or Colorado Avalanche and NHL Hockey Blog. (Jeez, I know the name "Opossum-Palooza" is non-sensical and foolish, but at least it is somewhat creative. C'mon guys! (Or girls))

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NHL Preview: Calgary Flames

Okay, now that we've got this weekend's shenanigans behind us, we're back on track with our thirty part series previewing the NHL's thirty teams. Today, we move into the Western Conference with the Calgary Flames. We also bring back DefDude, whose Atlantic division previews were the talk of the proverbial town.

Defense wins championships-a fundamental principle of sports, perhaps one of the most widely embraced tenets of team athletics in the United States. Just look at some of the greatest defenses from throughout history: The Pittsburg Steelers “Iron Curtain” of the 1970’s; The dominance of the Detroit Pistons the past few seasons in the NBA; The New Jersey Devils of the late 90’s and early 2000’s-all great defenses, all championship teams. Why then, one might ask, did the Calgary Flames and their league-best defense, led by Vezina-winning goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, not only fail to win a championship last season, but fail to even advance beyond the second round of last year’s playoffs?

Well, as the Flames and their anemic offense discovered, a defense doesn’t score the goals, and in hockey, goals must be scored in order to win. To that end, the Flames made every effort this summer to improve on their offense, which ranked 4th worst in the entire league last season. Calgary dealt a top blueliner, Jordan Leopold, to division rival Colorado in exchange for the gifted playmaker Alex Tanguay, who provides both the versatility to play either center or left wing, and finally gives perennial All-Star Jarome Iginla a talent of his own caliber to play with. Additionally, the Flames brought in solid left wing Jeff Friesen who, despite a dreadful year last season split between Washington and Anaheim, has a Stanley Cup ring, and is still a well-regarded depth forward who will help to increase scoring, and signed prospect Andrei Taratukhin, who is coming off of an impressive season in the Russian Superleague.

While the offense will hopefully improve, the focus of this team will certainly continue to be its rock-solid defense, led by second-year veteran Dion Phaneuf who, had he not been lumped into a rookie class involving such names as Crosby and Ovechkin, would have almost certainly won the Calder last season, along with veterans Robin Regehr and Roman Hamrlik. Standing behind these imposing presences will then be the league’s best goaltender, the aforementioned Kiprusoff, who has the uncanny ability to stop pretty much any shot, ever. With no drop-off on the defense in sight, and the offense having nowhere to go but up, expectations will be high in Calgary for this upcoming season. And they should be; they’re my preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup.

If you need more Calgary Flames blogging, never fear. Check out Red Mile, as well as Calgary Flames Blog. And don't forget one of the best hockey blogs around, The Battle of Alberta.

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Fantasy Hockey Update

With just twelve days left until the draft, The O-P Fantasy Hockey League still needs eight more members. So, yeah, there that is.


NHL Preview: Washington Capitals

In light of the fact that I am now way behind on the NHL previews, I'm doing two in one day today. Which brings us to part fifteen of our thirty part series. In this case, that means it's finally time for me to preview my favorite team, the Washington Capitals. (Because of the technical difficulty induced delay, Eric at Off Wing Opinion already beat me to this, but still read mine anyway.)

Back in 1972, when the Washington Senators packed up and moved to Texas, the Nation's Capital was faced with a serious quandary. The Senators' departure left a gaping hole in the local sports landscape, which suddenly found itself without a comically bad team to be the butt of everybody's jokes. The Washington Bullets were consistent playoff contenders just six years away from their first (and currently only) NBA championship, and the Redskins had just reached Super Bowl VII under head coach George Allen. Luckily for DC sports fans everywhere, the Washington Capitals played their first season in 1974-75 and saved them from the torture of having only to succesful teams to root for, going 8-67-5 in their inaugural year (a mark that still stands as the all time record for the worst record in an NHL season).

The Capitals' reign as the biggest joke in Washington sports lasted somewhere between eight and ten years (depending on who you ask) before they handed the mantle over to the Bullets. In 1983, they made the playoffs for the first time, and continued to do so for seventeen of the next twenty seasons before missing the 1997 playoffs (They made up for it by going all the way o the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998). But don't let a string of playoff appearances fool you. For all their regular season success, the Capitals rarely made it past the first round of the playoffs, usually as a result of a horrible, heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In fact, out of eighteen playoff appearances, the Capitals only advanced to the third round of the playoffs only twice.

The long term results of the team constantly hovering just below "great" but just above "mediocre" meant that they weren't bad enough to earn high draft picks, but they weren't good enough to attract premier players. That all changed when current owner Ted Leonsis purchased the team in 1999 and began binging on high-priced free agents, ultimately culminating in the spectacular disaster that was the 2003-04 season, a season that eventually saw the team trade Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Bondra and then NHL leading scorer Robert Lang. Which is why the team now finds itself once again occupying the throne of "Worst Team in DC". With a team stocked mostly with rookies and journeymen, the Capitals finished 2006 with fourth worst record in the NHL.

The outlook for the Caps isn't all gloom and doom, though. If you've payed even the slightest bit of attention to the hockey highlights on Sportscenter (I realize you probably haven't) you know about last year's Rookie of the Year Alex Ovechkin. Perhaps the best young players the NHL has seen since Wayne Gretzky took the ice for the Edmonton Oilers, Ovechkin single-handedly won several games for the Caps last year, and should show marked improvement this year. Helping him out will be Alexander Semen, returned from his "compulsory military service" in Russia, and fan favorite Richard Zednik, who returns to the Caps after three years in Montreal. The added firepower should help to take some pressure of Ovechkin, allowing him to really flourish.Being the unabashed homer that I am, the Caps are my pick to surprise everyone by making a run at the playoffs during the 2006-07 season.

When it comes to Capitals blogging, you've got a whole slew of options. Be sure to check out Japer's Rink, Capital Punishment, Bleatings From a Caps Nut, Puckhead's Thoughts and A View From the Cheap Seats. If that's not enough, don't forget that DCSportsChick is a very respectable Caps fan, and Off Wing Opinion, being based locally, tends to give the Caps more than their fair share of coverage as well. Last but not least, don't forget to check out Caps owner Ted Leonsis' blog, Ted's Take.

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NHL Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Sorry for the delay, folks. I've been working against some technical difficulties involving my internet access here at Casa de Biff, but it looks like I'm back up and running, which means it's time for part fourteen of our NHL previews, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning fell just short in their epic quest to become the first defending Stanley Cup Champions to miss the playoffs entirely since the 1995-96 New Jersey Devils. (Ironically, the Devils actually missed out on the final spot to Tampa Bay, which means the Thrashers and Maple Leafs didn't just miss out on the eight seed last year, they missed out on the 2016 Stanley Cup.) Their other epic quest, the one where they tried to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions ended less than two weeks later when they were ousted by Ottawa in the first round.

During the offseason the 'Ning, as they are affectionately called, didn't make many waves. Former Columbus Blue Jackets starter Marc Denis is a bit of an upgrade over John Grahame. The Lightning picked up Denis in exchange for winger Fredrik Modin, a thirty-goal scored whose production they failed to replace. As a result, expect a decrease in goals for to offset the potential decrease in goals against, resulting in another finish towards the lower end of the conference.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: I am aware that this preview is short and uninformative, and I apologize. Fact is, the Lightning are one of the most unremarkable franchises in the NHL. As evidenced by the fact that I couldn't find a single Lightning blog that had been updated in the past four months.)

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Hooray, Beer!

Hello all you DC Sportsbloggers.
It's time for another Happy Hour.
Blissfully, this time we'll be in Washington, at Stetson's , located at 1610 U St NW - more importantly, 3 small blocks from my house - for easier stumbling home.
This Thursday the 21st, 7:00ish.
Added bonus? You get to make fun of me for my shitty alma mater's football team. UVa plays Ga. Tech that night. Wahoowa, indeed. Pfft.

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Tom Cruise: Offensive Coordinator

When the announcement was made that Tom Cruise would be joining into a business partnership with Redskins owner Dan Snyder, a great cry went up throughout the land. Finding a Redskins fan who wanted to be associated with Tom Cruise's special brand of crazy was like trying to find someone who had gone to see Cruise's last movie. This was mostly due to Cruise's association with the Church of Scientology and his controversial views on psychiatry, but few fans thought it would have any affect on the actual on-field performance of the football team.

It is a little known fact, however, that in addition to their non-sensical views on psychiatry, Scientologists also have some absurd beliefs when it comes to the forward pass in football. More specifically, Scientologists do not believe in throwing the football more than eight yeards down the field at any given time. Also, according to Scientology, no football should ever be thrown except on third down.

While this strategy is seemingly, in the words of Tom Jackson, "retarded", the Scientologists are actually one step ahead of teams like the Cowboys. Apparently, long pass completions result in extraordinarily high levels of Thetans in the arms and hands, resulting in a high number of dropped balls (and broken fingers). If Scientologists are correct, by Week 15, Redskins recievers will be laughing all the way to the endzone.

When asked about his inexplicably conservative play calling during the game against Dallas, Redskins' assistant head coach (offense) Al Saunders replied "You don't know the history of passing. I do." When pressed further by NBC sideline reporter Andrea Kremer, he replied "You're glib, Andrea. You're just... you're glib."

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NHL Preview: Florida Panthers

We're halfway through September and you know what that means: Part thirteen of our thirty part series previewing the new hockey year. Today? The Florida Panthers.

When history looks back at the summer of 2006, what it will remember best is Evgeni Malkin's Midnight Ride and the Disaster of Long Island. What will get lost in all the haze is the truly entertaining teams of the NHL offseason, the Florida Panthers. The Panthers entered the offseason with a slew of needs to be filled. The only position on the ice that they could be truly confident in was goaltending. Robert Luongo was one of the elite goaltenders in the league, if not the outright best. While his numbers weren't especially gaudy when compared to other elite goaltenders in places like Calgary or New York, after adjusting for the fact that the defense allowed shot totals well above the thirty per game mark his numbers probably ranked with some of the best to ever play the game. He was the type of player that a GM can build a franchise around. Or, in the case of Mike Keenan, the type of player that can be traded for a sociopathic power forward.

In a deal that shocked the world (or at least some parts of Western Canada) Keenan traded his premier goalie to Vancouver for much maligned winger Todd "Batshit Crazy" Bertuzzi. The end result of the deal is that the Panthers now have more question marks than they did at the end of the season back in April. Yet somehow people were still surprised when Keenan got the boot resigned earlier this month.

It's a shame too. Keenan actually did a decent job of bolstering the defense, which would have given Luongo a chance to really flourish. Instead, the defense is now responsible for protecting former Maple Leaf Ed Belfour, who signed with the Panthers because they were the closest team to his new retirement home. It's a tough task for the Florida defense, given the fact that Belfour may very well break into tiny little pieces if a puck should actually hit him. If Belfour goes down, his backup is Bertuzzi trade afterthought Alex Auld, who brings to the table one year of experience as a starter on an otherwise playoff-worthy Canucks team.

Of course, Belfour could stay healthy and perform with some of his former skill in net, and the change of scenery might help Bertuzzi break out of the season-long funk he found himself in after being reinstated to the league. Combined with the newly bolstered defensive corps and the return of Olli Jokinen and his big new contract, such an occurance could result in the Panthers' first playoff berth in seven years.

To follow all the excitement in South Florida, check out Panthers Den for all your blogging needs.

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NHL Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

Welcome to the twelfth part of our thirty part series ushering in the coming NHL season. Today, the focus is on the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes.

Ah, the Carolina Hurricanes. As near as I can tell, they are more or less immune to my jokes. They fail to lose with any sort of consistency. None of their players are insufferable douchebags. Heck, I can't even use a funny picture to accompany their preview (I'm still surprised they're even allowed to continue using the name "Hurricanes"). Truth is, if it were not for the fact that they play in the same division as my beloved Washington Capitals, I would probably have a soft spot for the 'Canes. It isn't often a team gets to make a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals twice in the span of four years (see: 1996 Florida Panthers, 1998 Capitals), let alone actually win one. But that is exactly what they did last year, edging out their former WHA brethren Edmonton Oilers in a seven game final for the ages.

But they do play in the same division as the Caps. And objectivity is not one of my strong suits. As if it weren't bad enough to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Southeast Division's first Stanley Cup back in 2004, the Hurricanes had to rub it in by bringing the Cup back down South for the second straight season. But don't feel bad for me. Feel bad for all the people in Hartford, CT (best logo ever, by the way) who had to watch as the team that was taken from them celebrated a championship hundreds of miles away, cheered on by idiot fans who had no appreciation for their own good fortune. At least the Colts have had the decency to choke badly in the playoffs every year. Luckily for the folks in Connecticut, and for the general populace, it won't happen again this year.

As often happens with a succesful team, several of the key cogs from Carolina's run to the Cup have since cashed in and gone on to greener pastures. Doug Weight, Mark Recchi, Matt Cullen, Martin Gerber and Aaron Ward all signed free agent deals elsewhere, and the team couldn't have hoped to replace them in just one offseason. Add to that the fact that Cory Stillman and Frantisek Kaberle will miss four and six months respectively after both undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. (Note from Sabres fans: Karma's a bitch, ain't it?) Probably the biggest loss is Gerber, who spent alot of time as Carolina's number one guy in net last season. If Cam Ward struggles, instead of a safety net, he now has John Grahame (kind of like tightrope walking over Niagra Falls). When all is said and done, look for the Hurricanes to end their quest for a repeat in the second round of the playoffs.

For all your Hurricane blogging needs, you're welcome to try the beautifully named Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup Champions Blog or the (slightly) more creatively named Hurricane Watch, though neither seem to be updated too often. Probably off having sex with their girlfriends, who like them because their favorite team has actually ever won anything. Losers.

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U2 Ruins Everything

I awoke to some dreadful news this morning. U2 and Green Day are going to perform a charity cover version of "The Saints Are Coming" by The Skids before The New Orleans Saints' home game on September 25th. Why "dreadful" you ask? I'll tell you.

I swear to God, Bono ruins everything I love. To wit: in the middle of "I'm Your Man," a recent serviceble documentary about the genius Leonard Cohen, up pops Bono himself, blathering on about the fundamental "Irishness" of Cohen's writing. Irish? Really? Pfft. And to add insult to injury, the ubiquitous Mr. Paul Hewson insinuated himself into another documentary about Charles Bukowski that I was really enjoying. Goddammit, Bono, why do you have to sully all good things with your mere presence?

Don't get me wrong, of course I wish the best for New Orleans, a city I love (see the pattern?) but am tired of seeing these holier-than-thou assholes ravage even the purest of intentions - helping the fine people of the Crescent City. Please go away, U2.

And Green Day? I don't even have any words.

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NHL Preview: Atlanta Thrashers

It's time for the eleventh installment of our thirty part series previewing the fast approaching NHL season. For those of you who were rather enjoying DefDude's most excellent previews, you are completely out of luck. Southeast division previews are being brought to you by yours truly. Check back in a week, when DefDude starts previewing the Northwest division. But for today, let's look at the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Atlanta Thrashers? Where to begin. Ordinarily, I fill this first paragraph with tales of a franchise's glory days. Problem being, with the Thrashers, the closest thing they have to a glory day is the day they drafted the (then) best Russian prospect ever in Ilya Kovalchuk (pronounced Koval-chook for you ignorant, non-Russian speakers). Other than that, the hockey fan(s) in the ATL had very little to get excited about in the franchise's first five seasons (plus lockout). Things started looking up last year, as the Thrashers were in the thick of the playoff race (well, if not the thick, then they were out there on the edge fighting for the eighth spot) up until their second to last game of the season. They eventually finished tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the sixth worst record in the Eastern Conference (or ninth best, if you're a glass half full type). This year, the team embarks on a noble quest to be only the eighth worst team and bring the joy of playoff hockey to the state of Georgia for the first time since the Jimmy Carter administration.

It won't be easy. The only real bright spot for the Thrash (great nickname, by the way) this offseason was the signing of backup netminder Johan "Headcase" Hedberg (you can also call him "Moose" if youd like). While he will provide a stabilizing presence in net when Kari Lehtonen inevitably goes down with an injury, the fact that he is batshit crazy should probably be a cause for concern. Not as much, though, as the loss of Jaroslav Modry, which has left their already thin defensive corps in a very bad state.

The only really good move the Thrashers front office made was the decision to do away with the team's dark blue home sweaters, and replace them with the significantly more aesthetically pleasing third jerseys (ostensibly, this was because this is the only reason anybody outside of the NHL even knows who the Thrashers are).

To keep up with the Atlanta hockey team via blog (because, really, what other way is there?) check out Thrash Talk.

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NHL Preview: The Great Satan

Here we go. The moment we've (read: I've) all been wating for. Our tenth part of the thirty part series previewing the impending NHL year. In it, DefDude turns his eye to my own personal mortal enemies, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

What a tumultuous offseason it has been for hockey fans in the Steel City. From their Golden Boy losing out on “his” Calder trophy, uncertainty over the team’s ownership and future in the city, and the three ring Russian circus brought by Russian prospect Evgeni Malkin’s covert arrival to the United States, there has rarely been a dull moment for fans in Pittsburgh, which is good for them, because it isn’t like Pittsburgh ever received an inordinate amount of attention from the media before this offseason despite its being an ailing franchise in a small market or anything.

After being an active player in the free agent market last year, only to watch their overpriced veterans underperform and lead the team nowhere but backwards (except for Sergei Gonchar, since he can’t even skate that direction, much less lead a team in it), Pittsburgh elected to stay relatively quiet this go round, with the only acquisition of note being the return of veteran winger Mark Recchi to help solidify the offense and bring an experienced voice of leadership to the locker room. This season, the youngsters on Pittsburgh’s roster will be given a chance to prove their mettle at the NHL level and blossom into bona fide NHL stars, a youth movement to be led by the potentially devastating 1-2 punch of Sidney “Golden boy” Crosby and the aforementioned Evgeni “Here’s hoping he’s Ovechkin 2.0” Malkin, along with elite goaltending prospect Marc-Andre Fleury, who has the potential to be a Vezina contender in a few years if he can develop greater consistency.

Hampering this team's development, however, will be the presence of a certain few leftovers from last season's spending binge. Sergei Gonchar, who should never, ever be asked to do anything more than improve a power play, will now most likely be looked to as the #1 defenseman due to his salary and wealth of experience. This despite the fact that he doesn’t actually know how to play defense, and will instead steal a roster spot from a player with much more potential for development, all while compiling an impressive -20 or worse defensive rating. The question of leadership also poses an issue for such a young team; while it might seem intuitive to ask the experienced Recchi to assume a vocal leadership position, he had a well publicized spat with Sidney Crosby last season, and any move on the part of management to suggest a trust in Recchi could alienate the Golden Boy. Conversely, Crosby himself has not displayed the maturity to assume a leadership role yet, instead doing little but annoying and frustrating both teammates and officials with his constant on-ice complaining. Not to mention the historical argument against giving such a large role to such a young player. The only other veteran on the team, Gonchar, has displayed no leadership skills over his long career, leaving the team in a tight bind, the solution to which will have long lasting repercussions for the city of Pittsburgh…assuming, of course, the team is there long enough to see those repercussions.

If you'd like to follow all the Pens related blogging fun, you've got quite a few options. Check out The Hockey Knight, Pittsburgh Penguins Report or Pittsburgh Penguins Blog. But remember that if you do, the terrorists have won.

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NHL Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

The ninth part of our thirty part series previewing the looming NHL season is here. Join us as DefDude takes a look at the Philadelphia Flyers.

Ah, Philadelphia, the city of endless optimism, where hope abounds at the turn of each season, with beautiful visions of an end to the city’s long-endured championship drought dancing through the mind of every Philadelphian, only to find those dreams irreparably maimed and mangled on the side of the road, hemorrhaging violently from the rape and pillage inflicted by whichever team decided to leave Philadelphia in its wake. Will this be the season that Philadelphia finally breaks through, and the city earns its first major sports championship in over a quarter of a century? If it is, it certainly won’t be the Flyers who deliver.

When goaltending has been a team’s undoing in each and every season of the new millennium, one would think something would be done to address such a situation, with, say, and effort made to bring in a top notch, reliable goaltender, right? Not when your GM is as afraid of marquee goaltenders as Biff is of bees and other such stinging insects. And with the retirement of defensive stalwart Eric Desjardins, the departure of responsible two-way center Michal Handzus, and the continuing health issues faced by captain Keith Primeau, the job that falls to whichever flash in the pan Bob Clarke deems worthy of leading his team to a Stanley Cup run heart-wrenching playoff failure grows exponentially more difficult.

Not all is lost in Philadelphia, however. As I write this, reports indicate that premier winger Simon Gagne just signed a brand spankin' new five-year deal, and the return for Handzus, former Blackhawks winger Kyle Calder, is a dynamic offensive threat. If the ailing Peter Forsberg can stay healthy, the Flyers will have o of the most potent offenses in the NHL this season, assuming of course, that coach Ken Hitchcock can loose up his necktie a little bit (no small feat for a man whose girth is in no way synonymous with the first adjective used in this parenthetical statement) and allow his gifted forwards the freedom to be creative in the offensive zone. If Forsberg stays healthy, and Hitchcocks big guns are allowed to do their thing, the Flyers will be a force in the Eastern Conference, likely winning their division and probably finding their way into the second round of the playoffs, with the conference finals as a distinct possibility. But unless Clarke makes a midseason deal for someone more reliable than Robert Esche or Antero Nittymaki, call an ambulance, because we’re about to see another corpse bullied on Broad Street.

Check out Clarke's Boys for all the Flyers blogging you could ever possibly need.

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Happiness Is...

Listening to the chorus of boos cascading down from the Giants Stadium faithful as Jeremy Shockey, with less than a minute left in the game and no time outs left, catches the ball at the sidelines and immediately turns toward the middle of the field and gets tackled. Welcome back, NFL.


NHL Preview: New York Rangers

Today brings the eight installment of our series previewing the fast approaching NHL season. Today, DefDude gives you the skinny on the New York Rangers and does an astoundingly good job of containing his scathing vitriol towards Jaromir Jagr. (Me? Not so much, apparently.)

Well, that was shocking, to say the least. After dumping the high-priced free agent approach that led to 8 consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, the Rangers were poised to fall to the very bottom of the barrel in 2005-06. With a questionable-at-best goaltending situation and a shallow, one-man offense, most experts were picking the Rangers to be comparable only to the Washington Capitals for season long futility. Then Henrik Lundqvist decided “Yea, I’m a rookie, but I’m also Swedish, so the rules obviously don’t apply to me,” and decided to go become not only the best goaltender in the Rangers organization, but one of the top five goaltenders in the league, and the Rangers suddenly went from a crappy young team to a halfway decent young team. Then something really crazy happened: Jaromir Jagr, completely surrounded by fellow Czechs, forgot that he was playing for an NHL franchise and not his home country, so he figured it’d be ok if he actually skated hard and gave a shit every, ya know, third shift or so, and then the Rangers went from being a halfway decent young team to the surprisingly good Czech National Veteran-Led team that won the Atlantic division…and then Jagr realized he was in the NHL, refused to show up for the playoffs, and the Rangers were steamrolled by the Devils in one of the most pathetic showings by a 3rd seed in the history of the current playoff format. (Biff's Note: Nothing compared to the 2nd seeded '99-'00 Capitals. Not that I'm bitter about that or anything.)

So where does that leave the Rangers for this year? Well, Lundqvist should only be better, and the addition of 40-goal scorer Brendan Shanahan gives the Rangers a suddenly potent second line that will make it much more difficult for opponents to key in merely on Jagr’s line (Not that that tactic worked out so well for opponents last season). But in the end, this team’s fortunes will depend on which Jagr decides to show up for opening night and beyond: The motivated, dominating vintage version who barely missed out on the Art Ross and Hart trophies as the NHL’s leading scorer and MVP, respectively, or the lazy, disinterested one who played two seasons for Washington and one playoff series for the Rangers lasts season. If it’s the former, you can expect another uncontested Atlantic division title, and depending on how well the defense comes along, a distinctly possible ECF berth. If it is the latter, however, Rangers fans can expect to see something eerily similar to that which they were accustomed before the lockout……a putting green come May.

To follow all the exciting developments on the isle of Manhattan, check out Blueshirts on Broadway or Broadway Blue (they're creative up there in the Big Apple, no?).

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NHL Preview: New York Islanders

Part seven of our thirty part series previewing the upcoming NHL season is once again brought to you by DefDude, and is today focused on the New York Islanders.

Do I actually have to write this? Can’t we just all accept the fact that the Islanders will be the worst team in the NHL and move on? No, my contract stipulates at least three paragraphs? Ok, here you go:




Where to begin? Their owner is Charles Wang, and if that last name didn’t tip you off, he seems to be more concerned with making people laugh (Or cry, if you live on Long Island), than with icing a competitive hockey team. Friend OldChelsea sums up this, and another situation nicely in a recent message board post:

Once upon a time there was a baseball team whose very name was synonymous with fundamental soundness in the sport: building through the farm system and adding just the right trades or FA signings to fill specific needs...emphasising strong pitching (all those 20-game winners and Cy Young laureates), tight defence (led by a legendary third baseman with 16 consecutive Gold Gloves) and timely hitting. But starting about twenty years ago that organisation began to deteriorate...the farm system withered, ownership became more meddlesome, and potential free agents actually (if the stories are to be believed) crossing that team off their itineraries...and the losing seasons continue to mount, and attendance (despite a much-admired ballpark) is down.

And once upon a time there was a hockey team which, in its own way, was also synonymous with the 'right way' of doing things: building through the draught(sic) (including three Calder Trophy winners in the franchise's first decade of existence) and making the right trades to fill needs...and this would be borne out splendidly with four Stanley Cups. But as time passed and the stars of those teams aged and/or left, the organisation lost the plot and ultimately went through a nightmarish series of ownership shifts, and is now hitting playoff series wins since 1993, a string of seven straight seasons out of the playoffs (two short of league record), and finishing dead last in the league in attendance in 2005-06.

The baseball team is the Baltimore Orioles...the hockey team is the New York Islanders...and their recent histories have an eerie symmetry...although I must agree Charles Wang is a much more entertaining read than Peter Angelos.

I hate to fuck Islanders fans any more than Wang already has, but 3 different men have held the position of Islanders GM this summer, and yet when it came arbitration time, it was not the current GM/Backup goaltender Garth Snow, but former GM Mike Milbury. It’s lucky for the Islanders management that Garth Snow won’t be encumbered by such duties normally associated with a General Manager position such as, you know, running the team, because it appears all his time will be consumed now by getting himself into top physical condition to become the NHL’s first ever Player-GM. Or at least that’s the plausible explanation for Wang’s refusal to allow negotiations to begin with starting goaltender/Free Agent Rick DiPietro until Wang returns from vacation, and a deadline that he be signed by training camp, which will leave a window of negotiation lasting…….5 days, assuming Wang doesn’t change his mind and stay on vacation for awhile longer. After all, who would want to go back to that mess in New York?

If, for whatever reason, you want in on the Isles blog-related masochism, check out Inferno Isle.

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NHL Preview: New Jersey Devils

Welcome to the sixth part of our thirty part series previewing the upcoming NHL season. We have a special treat for you today, as today's preview (and all previews for the Atlantic division) are brought to you by Opossum-Palooza special correspondent DefDude. Please give him a warm welcome and don't throw anything at him or you're likely to find out why we rarely let him out of his cage. His first preview? The New Jersey Devils. I'll turn it over to him:

One of the most successful franchises in the NHL over the past decade, the New Jersey Devils (whose team nickname, by the way, was actually decided upon by current GM/overlord Lou Lamiorello, who said at the time: “I just want a franchise named after someone my kids can look up to.” Fucking weirdo) fell to the middle of the pack last season, placing 6th in the Eastern Conference and being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Caroli……ugh, I still haven’t accepted this. Nope, not saying it. Wait for Biff’s next set of previews before you get validation of that fact. But back to the point: The Devils’ second round elimination was, by their standards, a disappointment. And unfortunately for New Jersey fans, whose numbers have fallen back down to mere double-digits now that it’s cool to be a Rangers fan again, it only gets worse. New Jersey’s most consistent strength, the defense, was a mediocre 14th in the league at even strength last season, and with Richard Matvichuk set to start the season on the Injured Reserve while recovering from offseason back surgery, that number is likely to only get worse.

Luckily for fans in America’s armpit, the Devils have one of the league’s premier scoring lines to help offset the defensive shortcomings in Patrick Elias, Scott Gomez, and Brian Giont…….wait, what’s that? Oh right, Brian Gionta hasn’t been re-signed yet, nor have 7 other restricted free agents. And to top it all off, the Devils are already a reported $2 Million above the salary cap of $44 Million after accepting Scott Gomez’s arbitration award of $5 million, which, when combined with last season’s boneheaded decision to give Patrick Elias a new contract worth $7.5 mil, ties up 30% of the team’s cap space.

Now, many hockey writers and owners will probably decry this and similar situations as evidence that the salary cap punishes good teams by making it impossible for them to hold onto their key players (Biff, feel free to throw in a Eugene Melnyk reference here), which is kinda true. Except that I’d prefer to see successful teams being forced to come up with creative means of keeping their best payers than going back to the old days of watching the Rangers and Red Wings use not so creative ways of stealing small market teams’ best players. That, and since the Devils are the ones who ruined the NHL of the old CBA with the introduction of the trap, I feel it is only proper that they be the team to be shafted the most by the new CBA. While the combination of Martin Brodeur (whom I avoided calling overrated even once in this post, despite the fact that he is, by a longshot) in net and a continued adherence to the trap will probably net New Jersey a playoff spot, and may even let them vie for a divisional title, they are officially my sleeper pick for the 2006-07 Most Likely Team to Fall Flat on its Face and Unexpectedly Into the Lottery. And may they rot there for a good long while, because God knows damning them to hell clearly has done no good.

For more NJ Devils blogging fun, check out On Fire.

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NHL Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

Welcome to the fifth part of our thirty part series previewing the upcoming NHL season. Today, we look at the last of the five teams in the Northeast Division, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It's hard to believe, but there was a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs were a force to be reckoned with in the NHL. The Leafs' 13 Stanley Cup victories leave them second to only the Montreal Canadiens. But, much like the Canadiens, the current incarnation of the Maple Leafs have not seen much success, having last won the Cup in 1967.

Imagine, for a moment, if the New York Yankees were to go 39 years without winning the World Series, and you'll get a rough idea of the level of frustration among Leafs fans the world over. After missing the playoffs altogether for the first time in eight years, the Maple Leafs fired longtime coach Pat Quinn and replaced him with the coach of their AHL affiliate Paul Maurice.

He will be coaching a far more talented squad than the one that sank Quinn in '06. The Leafs did an excellent job of fixing the holes left by the departures of Ed Belfour and Eric Lindros and the buyout of Tie Domi, starting with the '06 draft, where they traded for Boston goaltender and former Rookie of the Year Andrew Raycroft. They followed that up with a very succesful series of free agent signings, including defencemen Hal Gill, Pavel Kubina (a large part of Tampa Bay's '04 Stanley Cup run) and, perhaps best of all, top notch defensive forward and '06 playoff hero Michael Peca.

They'll need the added defense those three guys bring, because the goaltending situation in Toronto is still somewhat tenuous at best. They are looking at a three way battle royale for the starting job between Raycroft, Turin gold medalist Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin, who had some success at the end of last year after taking over for Belfour. If he can return to the level of play that earned him the 2004 Calder Trophy, the Leafs could make a run deep into the playoffs. If, however, he continues his poor play from last season (a far more likely scenario) it could turn into a long year for the Toronto faithful.

Either way, make sure to check out budBlog for all your Maple Leafs blogging needs.

The O-P Hockey League has four members. Act quickly, as there are only eight slots left.

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NHL Preview: Ottawa Senators

Part number four of our thirty part series previewing the fast approaching NHL season. This time around, its all about the Ottawa Senators.

The original Ottawa Senators existed as a very succesful franchise from 1901-1934, winning the Stanley Cup ten times before moving to St. Louis in '34 and folding the following year. Following the Senators' departure, the country's capital city spent many years without a team participating in the national pastime. Sound familiar?

After an absence of 58 years (compared to a measley 33 for baseball in Washington, DC) the Senators franchise was revived in 1991. Much like the current Washington Nationals, the expansion Senators sucked all kinds of ass, finishing their inaugural season with a record of 10-70-4, which was just shy of the all time worst 1974-75 Washington Capitals, who finished 8-67-5 in their first year. Much like the Capitals of the late 80s and early 90s, the Senators have since turned it around to become a perennial contender during the regular season (they are going for their tenth straight playoff appearance in 06-07), only to flame out come playoff time, usually at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Will this year be the year they finally break through to the Stanley Cup Finals? Probably not. After losing Zdeno Chara to Boston and Dominik Hasek to Detroit's injured reserve this team is significantly weaker than the one that was bumped by the Buffalo Sabres in the second round. However, goaltender Martin Gerber could be poised to have a breakout year, in which case the Sens' potent offense could be enough to carry them to considerable postseason success.

Need more Senators blogging? Check out Senators Underground.

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NHL Preview: Montreal Canadiens

Welcome to part three of our thirty part series previewing the NHL season. Today's topic dujoir: The Montreal Canadiens. (Note: For full effect, this entire preview should be read out loud with a bad French accent.)

The Montreal Canadiens, also known as the Habs for those of you who want to impress that French-Canadian woman at the bar, are one of the oldest, most succesful teams in professional sports. Only the New York Yankees have more championships (26 to the Habs' 24). This is, of course, completely meaningless when it comes time to play actual hockey games, much to the chagrin of Quebecois everywhere. Since winning their last Stanley Cup thirteen years ago, the team has missed the playoffs five times and bowed out in the first round an additional four. They have yet to make it out of the second round since the days when Patrick Roy led them to glory.

This year doesn't look to be much different. After being eliminated in the first round in 2006, the Canadiens made few significant moves during the summer, signing forward Sergei Samsonov and trading underachieving winger Richard Zednik to Washington for a third round draft pick. Their most significant personnel move actually came in the midst of the '05-'06 season, when they traded starting goaltender Jose Theodore to Colorado in exchange for Avalanche starter David Abeischer. In continuing the proud Montreal tradition of goaltenders with names that invalidate everything you learned from "Hooked On Phonics", Abeischer will compete with Cristobal Huet for the starting job during training camp. All in all, another first round exit would probably be an optimistic outlook this year for the Habs.

"Habs", by the way, is short for "Les Habitants", for those of you who were wondering. The nickname stems from a 1924 incident in which Madison Square Garden owner Tex Rickard was erroneously informed that the H in the Canadiens logo stood for "habitants", at the time a French-Canadian term for Quebecois farmers, since all the players came from life on farms. The H actually stands for "hockey", as in "Club de Hockey Canadien" which was the name of the team at the time, but the nickname stuck, an everlasting tribute to the power of ignorant Americans named Tex.

For your Habs-related blogging, check out The Habs Network.

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NHL Preview: Buffalo Sabres

Part two of our thirty part series previewing the NHL season focuses on the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sabres were content to stand pat for the most part during this offseason, which was probably a wise choice, given that in '06 they took the eventual Stanley Cup Champions to seven games in the Conference Championship Game. They are, arguably, the favorites to win the Prince of Wales Eastern Conference in '07.

But a lack of player personnel moves in the offseason has not equaled a lack of activity in Buffalo. In what, if true, is arguably one of the most important moves of the summer by any team, the Sabres decided that this wasn't nearly fierce enough. In order to give themselves more competitive advantage, the Sabres have made sure that teams making the trek to upstate New York will now be faced with this under their skates at center ice. So far, the only complaints about the new logo have come from the engineers in charge of maintaing the ice surface, whose job it is to scrape the players' vomit off of the ice. Oh, and also this little website.

Seriously though. What the hell is wrong with the people who do graphic design for the NHL? As bad as the new Sabres logo (affectionately refered to as the Buffa-Slug) is, it probably isn't even the worst idea for a uniform redesign that we've seen. Remember the Islanders' Fisherman? Or the Canucks' V (For victory, by the way. NOT for Vancouver)?

Let's face it, when it comes to truly awful uniform design , the NHL is lightyears ahead of other major pro sports leagues. For every Seattle Seahawk you show me, I'll counter with the inaugural Washington Capitals. Think the Oregon Ducks look particularly bad? Well... okay, so the Nike-designed Oregon unis pretty much take the cake. But the point is, the NHL trots out some really heinous uniforms.

Of course, that said, when the NHL gets it right, a hockey sweater pretty much kicks every other kind of uniform's ass.

Oh, right... the Sabres. Ummm... I'm going to say they finish the season atop the conference and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

For all your Buffalo Sabres blogging needs, check out Sabre Rattling.

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One Week

It's Monday. Which can only mean one thing. There are just seven days left before the Washington Redskins take on the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football. Don't let my constant talk of hockey fool you, I'm extremely excited about the whole thing. This will be my first real Redskins game since that fateful day when I turned 21 years of age.

Now the problem becomes: Where to watch? I honestly have no idea where I should go to watch this game. Obviously, I can't just stay at home, but going to the wrong bar could turn out to be even worse than being alone. So I open it up to you, loyal reader(s). Any suggestions?

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NHL Preview: Boston Bruins

Hello, and welcome to the first of our thirty part series previewing the fast-approaching NHL season. Our subject today? The Boston Bruins.

For years, the Bruins have been something of a blight on the NHL. Like their original-six brethren in Chicago, their calling card was incompetent management. Their hallmark, tight purse strings. In spite of three straight playoff appearances, including two division titles in the relatively weak Northeast division, one got the sense that nothing was really right in Beantown, especially given their inability to make it out of the first round. The advent of the new, salary-capped NHL after last year’s lockout was supposed to help, but half way through an 05-06 campaign that would find them missing the playoffs for the first time in five years, the Bruins traded away their leading scorer (Joe Thornton, arguably the best player in the NHL) to San Jose, leaving many to wonder: What kind of crazy idiot would be willing sign with this team?

After wholesale changes in the front office and coaching staff, it didn’t take long during the offseason to find out. Zdeno Chara, probably the most sought after commodity on the market, was the cream of a surprisingly large free-agent crop for the suddenly free-spending Bruins. Overall, Boston has made sixteen free-agent signings to date during this offseason.

As a result, the Bruins look to be much improved this year after last season’s disappointing results. The addition of Chara adds an imposing blueline presence at both ends of the ice (Chara, if I remember correctly, is one of only three players in the NHL that are so tall, they need a special exemption to the NHL’s rules about stick length) and Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard provide a potent one-two punch up the middle. Not to mention rookie of the year (you heard it here first, folks) Phil Kessel. My prediction: An exit in the first round at the hands of division rival, Buffalo.

Check out [] for all your Bruins blogging needs.

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Feel the Excitement

The NHL regular season is just 33 days, 5 hours and 47 minutes away. In case you were wondering. So, starting Monday (hopefully) I'll be putting together previews (hopefully) of all 30 NHL teams, starting with the Boston Bruins. Right now, the goal is (hopefully) to post one per day. Who can say if I'll actually be able to pull it off, especially given my general lack of knowledge regarding the Western Conference, but I'm certainly going to try, by damn.

If you have a favorite (or least favorite) team that you happen to have a lot of knowledge about, please feel free to e-mail Because I'm not too proud to ask for help.